If you, like me, wear contact lenses most of the time you may have choked on your morning coffee a couple of weeks ago when Canadian national news outlets began running articles like this one instructing contact lens wearers to switch to glasses during the COVID-19 pandemic. This was in response to a statement by the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO), which pointed out that wearing contact lenses requires you to touch your face at least twice per day (a big no-no during these times) and that glasses may offer some protection from infected respiratory droplets. But is this sound advice or another well-meaning yet ultimately flawed recommendation born of desperate times?
Probably the latter.
In support of the AAO’s position, experts agree that you probably can be infected by COVID-19 through your eyes in addition to through your nose and mouth, and that people with COVID-19 probably shed the virus in their tears just as they do in their respiratory droplets. It is also true that if your contact lenses are uncomfortable or fitting poorly, you may inadvertently reach up and touch your eyes throughout the day to rub them or to readjust your contacts. Wearing glasses may reduce that tendency or, at the very least, provide a physical barrier that you have to reach around in order to actually make contact with your eyes.
However, consider the following:
- At this point there is absolutely zero evidence that contact lens wearers are more likely to contract COVID-19 than their glasses-wearing counterparts.
- Regular, everyday glasses are not considered personal protective equipment (PPE) by the Center for Disease Control and there is no evidence that people who wear glasses are at lower risk of contracting COVID-19. This makes some intuitive sense – if someone coughs or sneezes in your face, your glasses may block some of those particles from reaching your eyes but they are not doing much to protect your nose and mouth (unless they are REALLY big!). Note that health care practitioners on the front lines wear full face shields in addition to their N95 masks.
- You should not be touching your eyes or contact lenses with unwashed hands even during normal times. In the midst of a pandemic this is obviously even more crucial.
- Every time you wear your glasses out of your house you run the risk of contaminating them with COVID-19. In other words, if you choose to wear glasses you need to clean them regularly with soap and water to prevent them from becoming a source of transmission.
So is there anyone who should stop wearing their contact lenses? Yes. If you develop COVID-19, you should switch to glasses until you recover. As mentioned above, your tears likely contain active coronavirus and will have contaminated your existing contact lenses and contact lens case. You’ll need to throw them out and restart contact lens wear with fresh gear when you are feeling better. Also, if you are healthy but your contact lenses are really bothering you we recommend wearing your glasses for now and calling us for advice, just like during normal times.
Everyone else can breathe a sigh of relief and continue wearing their contacts. Just don’t forget to wash your hands before touching your eyes, nose, or mouth.
Stay safe everybody,
Darren Schamber, OD
Founder / Partner